Sustainable Bartending

by David Shenaut

Portland. Sustainability is taken very seriously here. It has touched every corner of life in this city. From bike lanes and hard-core recycling programs, to local farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants.

That’s right - the efforts of the Nation’s Greenest City* to maintain the title extends all the way down to where we eat and drink.

The consumers in Portland fully embrace the intensely local farmer-chef relationships that give way to some of the best restaurants in the country.  In fact, sourcing locally so permeates our food scene that saying this-place or that-place sources locally, recycles, composts, and has bike parking is about as newsworthy to a Portlander as saying they serve water and have tables. We expect it, seek it out, and appreciate it.

Lately, however, a new effort to “keep it green” has been popping up behind the recycled wood, salvaged gymnasium flooring, and reclaimed industrial materials that make up some of Portland’s newly opened bars. Spirit of 77, a re-imagined sports bar celebrating the year the Portland Trailblazers last held the NBA championship, sourced a significant number of its building materials from nearby Hillsboro Union High School. Old pieces of the gym’s wood floor were saved from the landfill and are now featured prominently along the back-bar. On SE Belmont, vegan-friendly bar The Sweet Hereafter built their entire kitchen out of a recycled shipping container (it looks as cool as it sounds). Not to be out-done, Hopworks Bikebar has two stationary bikes that, when pedaled by patrons, actually generate electricity back in to the buildings power grid.

Over at Bent Brick, a new restaurant/bar in NW Portland, bar manager Adam Robinson has created an amazing cocktail menu using primarily local spirits and exclusively domestic products (with the understandable exception of Angostura bitters). And why not?! The Pacific Northwest is a bounty of local sources for beverages of all kinds. The Willamette Valley in Oregon alone has over 400 wineries. The Portland Indie Wine Festival features dozens of the best every year and allows locals in this city the chance to try them all. Don’t like wine? Prefer beer? Great! With over 37 and growing, Portland has more microbreweries than any other city in the country.** Spirits you say, you like the booze the best? We can help you with that, too. Portland is at the center of the micro-distillery trend, with 5 in particular on what is lovingly referred to as Distillery Row. They provide the city’s residents, restaurants, and bars with a huge variety of spirits from gin and vermouth, to white dog and sake.

It is true that you need to be in Portland to experience much of what makes us green and sustainable in the way we eat and drink, but look no further than this great city’s fine bartenders to give you a take-away lesson on how to conserve. We start with the basics. We sort glassware from compostable materials, recycle liquor and wine bottles, and serve tap water (it’s delicious here) instead of bottled. We keep our back-bars stocked with local spirits whenever possible, and try to offer local brews on tap as well. We keep a keen eye on how we use our bar tools, what we serve our drinks in, and how many times per shift we have to run the dishwasher.

But don’t feel left out, non-Portland bartenders, you too can be cool and green like us, for there is one key practice that happens here that you may not be aware of…

I’d like to offer a simple alternative to the way in which drinks are served. Come on people, let’s cut out the middleman. We humans were born with a receptacle for deliciousness right in the middle of our faces. So use them, dammit. Forego glassware altogether.

Give it to ‘em as a Layback.

Concisely stated, a layback is what it sounds like. The origins are hotly debated but the instructions are simple. Order your drink. Get your camera phone ready (you’ll want to document your first time); then turn around to face away from the bar. Plant your feet. Arch your back until your head is on the bar, make sure to check this angle in the mirror before you go out ladies, unnecessary exposure (though not unwelcome) can be distracting to the bartender. Make eye contact. Trust. Then open your mouth and don’t move! By taking your drink directly in your mouth, you’ve just saved a glass from having to go through the dishwasher. Mother Earth thanks you.

Now that you know the basics and have gotten your shaky-bambi-legs first time out of the way, it’s time to add some style. Laybacks are a great way for both customers and bartenders to express their individuality. Some bartenders prefer straight spirits while some go for an entire cocktail. Offset that imported Fernet shot with a saved shot glass and you’re conscience remains clear. Just remember to switch it up. Keep it exciting.

While Laybacks are considered an act of hospitality and a skill all proficient bartenders should master; keep in mind the matter of timing. It is like Flair Bartending and Jell-o shots. There is an appropriate time and place for a bartender to first introduce a customer to the magic of a Layback – pool parties, bloggers with their own drink menus, any time you hear “sweet but not too sweet with vodka,” someone wearing hemp and unnecessary glasses, or just a conscientious nature lover. Don’t we all deserve the chance to drink upside down?

So when you visit our fine city on the lookout for a chance to be like a local with your green-ness, remember to choose your drinking establishment wisely. And don’t be surprised if your bartender tells you to put your head on the bar. We are, after all, trying to save the planet.***

*Popular Science Magazine, 2008
**Lonely Planet “Best Beer Cities in the World” 2010
***The Oregon Bar Guild and do not condone the pouring of alcohol directly into someone’s mouth, as that action is not legal in the state of Oregon by decree of the OLCC.

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